Chicago Teachers Authorize Another Strike; Press Mostly Fails to Report Current Pay or Union's Demands

December 15th, 2015 10:44 PM

The Chicago Public Schools system, from which came Arne Duncan, perhaps the nation's most execrable Education Secretary, is in serious financial trouble. So is the State of Illinois. Having already borrowed against next year's property tax collections, CPS somehow expects the state to bail out its underfunded pensions to the tune of $500 million. Though it has subsequently been narrowed, MRC-TV, in covering the district CEO's resignation over a federal no-bid contract investigation, reported in June that the district was facing "a $1 billion budget deficit" for fiscal 2016.

In the midst of all of this, the district's teachers union has overwhelmingly authorized a strike. In searching several current articles on the topic, the hardest things to find were answers to two questions any reasonable person would ask: 1) How much do teachers currently make? and 2) What are their contract demands?

Though A Chicago Sun-Times item by Lauren Fitzpatrick was of no help at the individual level, she at least told us how much money the union is demanding overall (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Nearly every one of the thousands of Chicago teachers who cast ballots last week to determine whether they could go on strike voted to do so, blowing past a 75 percent approval mandated by the state.

The Chicago Teachers Union announced Monday that 96.5 percent of those casting ballots last week voted to back the strike. With nearly 92 percent of members voting, that means about 88 percent of all members support a strike should ongoing contract negotiations fail, according to CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey, who described the results as “overwhelming.”

... Sharkey chalked up the strong returns to continued cuts to public schools — and threats of even more from the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools in February. Short $480 million in its current operating budget, CPS is looking to Springfield to fill that gap, or has said it’ll make up the difference with thousands of layoffs plus borrowing.

“I’m happy to join with the mayor and the CEO for the schools to go to Springfield to advocate for real revenue,” Sharkey said.

... CPS also said the union’s demands from the district in a financial crisis totaled $1.5 billion, including more than $900 million in hiring of school librarians, nurses, social workers and more teachers to reduce class sizes.

The union's demands appear to be spread over three years. At $500 million per year, if met, they would amount to about 16 percent of CPS's current "local revenues" and about 8 percent of its "total revenues."

An unbylined report from the Associated Press contains absolutely no dollar amounts of any kind, concentrating instead on the potential political fallout for embattled Democratic Mayor and former Obama administration White House Chief of Staff Mayor Rahm Emanuel:


Chicago Teachers Union members overwhelmingly voted to authorize their leaders to call a strike, although a final decision on a walkout would be months away, the union said Monday.

The vote's results, while not a surprise, give union leaders added leverage in negotiations with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration over a new contract. ...

... Negotiations and a possible strike are among a number of challenges facing Emanuel in his second term, including a Justice Department investigation of the Chicago Police Department after a video was released showing a white officer fatally shooting a black teenager 16 times. The mayor also needs help from state lawmakers to fix a budget crisis at Chicago public schools. His administration has said that without relief, officials could be forced to lay off hundreds of teachers.

The AP wouldn't tell readers that the state itself is facing a $5 billion deficit, and that its Republican governor and Democrat-dominated legislature have been in a budget stalemate since June.

A Wednesday item at USA Today before the strike vote provided a sliver of relevant information:

The union is pushing for more school programs, smaller class sizes, a 3% salary increase, and pay for snow days. The school system, meanwhile, is looking for teachers to take a pay cut and pay more in health care premiums.

Well, that's progress. But to evaluate whether or not the requested increase is reasonable, we need to know how much teachers currently make. If they're getting by on $35,000 or so per year, it might be difficult to complain about their demand. But no current news account I could locate told readers what Chicago teachers currently make.

Radio talk host Dan Proft, in a Chicago Tribune op-ed, appears to have been the only person who got close. He identified the outrageous amounts other districts in Illinois hit by teachers' strikes this year are paying, but didn't reveal numbers for Chicago:

The 150 teachers at Prospect Heights School District 23 were out for a week in September before they came to terms with the board for a contract that provides a 14.25 percent pay increase over four years for teachers making less than $90,000 annually and a 9.75 percent pay increase over four years for teachers making more than $90,000.

... In October, it was the 248 teachers at McHenry County School District 156 who walked for a week. They agreed to come back after the board agreed to a 9 percent raise over three years in addition to splitting the cost of covering increased health insurance contributions.

Before the new contract, the average teacher salary in District 156 was just under $80,000, with 15 percent of teachers making more than $100,000 and two-thirds of teachers making more than $70,000.

... On Nov. 2, East St. Louis District 189 teachers returned to class after 21 days on strike with a four-year deal that provides an average salary increase of $12,834 over the life of the contract along with fully paid employee medical, dental, vision and life insurance (no deductible).

In East St. Louis, all of the more than 6,000 children in the district qualify for the free or reduced school lunch program. The median household income in East St. Louis is $19,000. The median pre-strike District 189 teacher salary was $72,000.

I finally found a year-old "what do they make?" answer for Chicago in a May news item at DePaulia, the student newspaper of DePaul University. Not surprisingly, Chicago teachers are also compensated quite well. Sadly, the money CPS spends on teachers' salaries isn't generating acceptable results:

Despite CPS offering a pay cut, records from the Illinois School Report Card database indicated that CPS teachers make the second-highest average salary of the 10 largest school districts in the state.

(Max Kleiner / The DePaulia)

Ten largest school districts in Illinois and their average teacher salary, spending per pupil and college readiness rate. (Max Kleiner / The DePaulia)

According to the database, Chicago teachers made an average of $71,739 in 2014, higher than the state average of $62,435.Only Naperville Community Unit School District 203 exceeded CPS in average teacher salary and per pupil spending. Yet, CPS ranked ninth out of 10, only beating Waukegan Community Unit District 60, in the percentage of students who are deemed college ready.Only 27 percent of students were considered ready for college coursework despite an 81 percent four year graduation rate.  This percentage was determined by the amount of students who achieved a 21 or higher on the ACT exam, which is administered to high school juniors every April. While factors such as socioeconomics come into play, many question the effectiveness of CPS teachers in the classroom as they get ready to negotiate a new contract.

Why does the press resist reporting such basic, necessary facts? I would argue that it's because many journalists, including those at the aforementioned AP, are in unions themselves. Beyond that, reporters realize that details about how well-paid teachers at government schools are isn't going to get a lot of sympathy from others, most of whom, if they are private-sector full-time workers, are making one-third to one-half as much — and don't get summers off.

Cross-posted at